We are losing but we are not defeated. On September 28, International Safe Abortion Day, women in Mexico City gathered to march downtown in favor of safe abortion. According to the World Health Organization, 3 out of 4 abortions that occurred in Africa and Latin America were unsafe which can create “a range of harms that affect women’s quality of lie and well-being [including] life-threating complications”.
To date, only Mexico City and the state of Oaxaca offer legal pregnancy termination while other states only allow it after rape. In July, the Supreme Court rejected an injunction for the state of Veracruz that would have decriminalized abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and set an important precedent for the rest of the country.
The demonstration on September 28, however, did not prompt a discussion on fundamental rights on sexual and reproductive health and the dispropionate effects restrictive abortion laws have on low-income women. Instead, it has forced feminist groups into a defensive position vis-à-vis the government’s stance (both from Mexico City and at the federal level) on the legitimacy of the movement.
President López Obrador, for example, claimed 90 percent of 911 calls for domestic violence were fake but his office has failed to provide evidence for such claim. Furthermore, he appeared to be more concerned about a damaged painting of Francisco I. Madero as a result of the occupation by feminist groups of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH per its Spanish acronym) than the reasons that prompted women’s organizations to take over the facilities of the CNDH.
Similarly, Mexico’s City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum claimed the occupation of the CNDH was financed by the private sector, attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the movement, and, contrary to everyone’s expectations, deployed the police on September 28 that “kettled” or contained protesters. Police actions prompted organizations such as Amnesty International to decry these tactics and call the government’s response repressive. Others, called demonstrators violent and Mexico City’s government stated 43 women police officers were injured including beatings and burns.
As my colleague Irene Alvarez has pointed out, negative responses to the occupation of the CNDH and the demonstration of September 28 show there are gender expectations around protests. That is, women’s rallies are only valid to the extent they do not challenge perceived women’s roles or expectations of what is feminine. Furthermore, conversations on the “right” way to protest and the legitimacy/illegitimacy of civil society ultimately distract from the real issues that need to be central to the government’s agenda: lethal and non-lethal forms of violence women in Mexico face every day everywhere.
In a country where 10 women are murdered daily, debates on the etiquette of protesting waste time we do not have. They.Are.Killing.Us. Let’s talk about that.
* Cecilia Farfán Méndez is head of Security Research Programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Twitter: @farfan_cc